Thursday, February 5, 2015

Whisky & Atalanta. Article IV, 25/09/1879 - Rambling Recollections of Berriedale, Badbea, and Neighbourhood – Part A

Article IV, written by Alexander Gunn, aka A Native of Badbea, was printed in the Northern Ensign on 25 September 1879. Part A

"I purpose now to draw my remarks about Badbea to a close, and to introduce your readers to our neighbours in the west - the inhabitants of Auchencraig, which lies reclining on the slopes of the hill, and looking about due west. Unlike Badbea, it is seen from the turnpike road, almost as soon as the traveller crosses the Ord on his way northward, and is also seen from the road as the traveller passes Ousedale southward. It consisted in my time of thirteen houses or families, and, like their neighbours of Badbea, each had a croft to cultivate. Auchencraig was in a more regular form than Badbea. The houses were all in a line at intervals of a few hundred yards apart, the land running down from the front of the houses in the direction, and pretty close to the burn, which was sometimes called Ousedale burn, and at other times Auchencraig burn.

Achnacraig and Auchencraig are the same place. 
The Ousdale burn runs down the left side of the picture.
Badbea starts at the top right hand corner where the B is. 
Map: Ordance Survey 6 inch 1st Edition 1843-1882
Ruins of Achnacraig by Sylvia Duckworth
The Auchencraig folks lived very much in the same style as the Badbea folks. The bothy and the "black pat" were as familiar with the one as they were with the other, but Auchencraig had an advantage over its neighbours, when the gauger visited the district, because coming from the east as they did, they paid their visit first to Badbea, which was not slow in despatching a messenger westward to announce the prospect of a visit from the enemy. The delay at Badbea gave the Auchencraig people a little more time to secure their malt or whisky as the case might be. The whisky, however, was not kept long on hand after being manufactured, but was disposed of as soon as possible, either to the innkeeper at Berriedale already referred to, or to some of the Helmsdale innkeepers. Donald Ross of the Commercial and Donald Mackenzie being the best customers. There was great risk in going to Helmsdale with the whisky, as there were gaugers stationed there, who were ever on the alert, and watching the principal road to the town.

The Highland Whiskey Still (1827) by Sir Edwin Landseer. 
Hathi Trust version of a copy in the University of Michigan Library.
There were many hairbreadth escapes by parties going to Helmsdale with their precious treasure. It was always at night that it was sent, and sometimes there were seizures made, but as already stated, the law was not very stringent, and the greatest loss was the forfeiture of the whisky. 
Illicit Whisky Still, Glen Torridon, Wester Ross by Tom Forrest
This illicit whisky still located in a concealed gully is believed to have been in use as recently as the late 1950's. 
The "Atalanta" paid the Auchencraig folks a visit occasionally, just as she did the Badbea folks. One day on her putting in an appearance at Auchencraig, the people were very unprepared for her. Several of them had malt in hand at various stages, and on the news spreading that the "cutter" was on the coast, it created no small commotion, everyone running here and there, helping their neighbours to hide the malt. The captain of the cutter, always on the alert with his glass to his eye, saw what was going on, and at once dispatched a boatful of his men shoreward, armed as they always were, to the teeth. The boat reached the shore, and in a few minutes the smart cuttermen would be in full swing, pursuing the parties carrying and concealing the malt. But the women, who are always fertile in resources when an emergency arrives, betook themselves in great numbers to the braehead, right above the shore where the boat had just landed, and commenced to hurl down large stones on the cuttermen below, which placed them in imminent danger of their lives, for if struck by one of these stones which went dashing and bounding down the face of the rock with the speed and the force of a cannon ball, it would grind them to powder; and if one of them struck the boat, it would smash it into match-wood. The captain of the cutter saw the predicament in which his men were placed, and he sailed in as close as he could to the face of the rocks, and opened fire on the women on the braeheads from a couple of small guns with which the cutter was armed. But he had a poor chance of doing any damage amongst the intrepid females, as they stood so high above the level of the cutter that it was seldom a shot reached over the top o the brae. The women continued the battle until everything was put out of the road, and then retreated to their houses, after which the cuttermen climbed the rocks, and scanned the town from end to end, seizing every woman they could get hold of, and inspecting their hands to see if they showed marks of being engaged at the stone rolling. Some of the women they attempted to drag towards their boat, but the men who thought it more prudent to keep out of sight at first, appeared on the scene, and interfered in the matter, which caused the cuttermen to desist. It was very near turning out a serious matter, for had the cuttermen persisted in their attempts to drag the women to their boat, the people of the place would have risen as one man to protect their wives and daughters; and the cuttermen, being well armed, lives might have been lost."

This story from 1826 would support the claim that 
incidents  with the cuttermen could be very serious. 

Revenue Cutter HMEC Greyhound chasing a smuggling boat 1794

Details of the Atalanta.
Hampshire Telegraph and Sussex Chronicle, 31 May 1845

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